On The Job - California

Craig Collier gives an account of a major fire that destroyed a Santa Monica landmark.


Santa Monica Fire Department Chief Richard Bridges Personnel: 96 career firefighters Apparatus: Five pumpers, one truck, two ambulances, one aircraft rescue unit, one light and air unit, one hazmat unit Population: 86,900 Area: 8.2 square miles As the dawn was breaking on Feb. 1...


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With this fire starting just before 6 A.M., members assigned to the on-coming shift began arriving at their stations by 6:30, which allowed the city's three reserve engines and reserve truck to be placed in service to handle other calls as well as assist at the fire scene.

As the fire progressed, aerial ladders were placed at all four corners of the building. Due to the design of the building as well its beachfront location, four portable monitors were placed in service on the east and west sides of the structure.

Safety was a prime issue the entire time the fire was being fought. Ever since the earthquake, the department had been pre-planning in the event such a fire broke out. Plans called for attempting an offensive attack if units arrived when the fire was small. But as soon as it was known that fire was below and above the firefighting units, an offensive attack was ruled out and a defensive mode was ordered.

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Photo by Gene Blevins/CFPA
A firefighter from Los Angeles City Ladder 5 works atop an aerial as the fire burns on the roof of the hotel. The roofs of both towers eventually collapsed.

For the next three hours, heavy streams pumped millions of gallons of water into the structure. The weather was clear, so the heavy smoke was visible for miles. As the fire progressed, it began spreading from the south tower to the north tower. Both roofs collapsed and the upper floor began falling onto the floors below.

By the end of the day, with only hot spots left, units were told they were restricted from making entry until the following day. A structural engineer was called in to evaluate the structure to determine which areas were safe to enter. Until that go-ahead was given, there was no way for firefighters to determine if anyone was still inside.

At noon on the following day, six search dogs from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department were brought to the scene to search the burned-out shell of the building. As the day became night, the search was concluded, with no victims found in the parts of the building searched (the dogs were not allowed into portions of the building that were structurally unsafe). The building, a Santa Monica landmark for 70 years, was ordered demolished. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

2 Firefighters Killed in California Blaze

Two Stockton, CA, firefighters died and another was critically burned in a house fire on Feb. 6, 1997.

Firefighters Brett Laws, 29, and Bryan Golden, 21, died when the structure's roof collapsed on them at the early-morning blaze. Golden was fighting his first fire.

Fire Captain Oscar Barrera was hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns. An elderly woman who lived in the house also was killed in the fire. Laws and Golden were searching for her when they were killed.

It took firefighters more than four hours to extinguish the fire, which was reported at around 4 A.M. The cause was not known.


Craig Collier is a 27-year veteran of the Santa Monica, CA, Fire Department. He is currently division chief of Support Services Division, which handles public education, public information, disaster preparedness and communications.